Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Under-rated dragons 3 - Dragonflight

I'm planning to talk about various fantasy novels involving dragons. My choice this week is Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. I'm not certain it deserves to be described as an under-rated dragon, but having started in that vein I'll stubbornly stick to it.

In 1968, Dragonflight was astonishing. It was a novel involving sympathetic, telepathic dragons, ridden into battle against a peril that fell from the skies threatening a civilisation that was apparently primitive but which at one stage had travelled between the stars. Now, there are numerous novels that use the same ideas and images, but when it first appeared, Anne McCaffrey's original novella, Weyr Search, was like nothing else then in fiction.

If it had only had that inventiveness it would still have been successful. But it also had a strong female central character who does not need rescuing, who makes her own future and who wins against all the odds – and has sex with the handsome male lead as well.

The feel of the early books is firmly that of a fantasy setting. The science fiction rationale for Pern which becomes far more visible in later books does not prevent the books being primarily fantasies, rather than SF.

I have seen detractors claiming the books are just poor fantasy soft-core erotica. Absolute rubbish – they are good stories, with strong characters and an ever-more complex world. There are flaws – Terry Pratchett, in the Colour of Magic, mercilessly lampoons the bland characterisation of the dragons themselves, and there are aspects of McCaffrey's world that she hadn't thought through fully. (I take my hat off to her for recognising the inevitable effects of the telepathic links between the male riders of green – female – dragons, and accepting the effect and being open about it even though it detracted from the masculine image she wanted for her dragonriders).

McCaffrey wrote a string of sequels and parallel novels set in the same world. The first of the Pern novels I read was Dragonsong – which didn't make a vast amount of sense to me at the time, but persuaded me to read some more. None of the others have quite the impact that Dragonflight has – it deserves its status as one of the all-time best fantasy novels.

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